10 RV Builds that will Make you Start your Van Life Now

An introduction to our own expedition vehicle requirements leading to the final decision on a Bliss Mobil expedition camper and LMTV M1078 truck chassis. Maybe the ideas and links in this post (and in the useful links page) will help others who are just getting started in your own search.

Our Love for Camping, Outdoors and Adventure

Our family has always loved spending time together traveling, camping and adventuring (with the occasional misadventure!). Lily, my wife, is known to coax us along with a “let’s just see what’s around that next curve…” whenever we’re out walking, or driving, in a new area. We’ve traveled a good bit of the world by plane, train, boat, bus, car and foot – but mostly we stay in hotels, VRBO and the like. We’ve also done a lot of family camping, mostly in California, and mostly tent-camping from our (trusty) Toyota Tacoma. We want to combine our love of broader travel with our love of camping and outdoors. There are other motivations: I’m no spring chicken and recently battled cancer (in remission, thank you!). I’m not willing to keep putting off dreams for much longer. I’m also not interested in a traditional “retirement.” Buying a condo in a retirement community and staring into the sunset isn’t on the table. Sinking most of our retirement savings into a Monster RV and driving that in to the sunset? Sign me up! The Monster RV is our retirement home. And lastly, the project in many ways contributes to our ceaseless pursuit of living in the moment, health and happiness.


The aforementioned bout with cancer had a heavy influence on this list of general requirements – some items are a necessity (or at least it feels that way now) and other items are “you only live once!”. Naturally, the more research I did, the longer the list would grow! (If I could only grow time and money the same way…) Here’s the list of requirements we were searching in a RV, loosely ranked by importance:

  • Minimal DIY – I salute those confident enough to do this themselves. I’m handy with a wrench but at my stage in life, happier to stay on the repair and maintenance side of things.
  • Capable of prolonged off-pavement without rattling apart.
  • Driver and passenger comfort for extended hours on the road.
  • Safe, comfortable accommodations after a hard day of driving.
  • Sleeping mattress (not pad) – no inflating, deflating and/or repairing required.
  • Quick setup and tear-down.
  • Capable of reasonably long periods off grid.
  • Plenty of storage for food, clothing, supplies, etc, for longer excursions.
  • Toilet! No more pit toilets, hole in the ground, butt against log, …
  • Heat. Already tent camped in the snow and decided once was enough.
  • Vehicle is globally serviceable.
  • Carry small motorcycle for fun, errands and as a “rescue bike”.
  • Decent towing capacity to occasionally pull trailer loaded with a couple more motorcycles and stuff. I doubt we’d do this often but want the option.

Options We Considered

Without further ado, here’s a quick overview of a few of the options we researched, most with curiosity and amazement , some with serious want.

The Camper Van

My camping and outdoors obsession began as a child with my parents and siblings. My father introduced me to back-country (New Mexico, Colorado) backpacking adventures in my early teens. Mom was no softy (a subsistence farmer for many years), but favored rv-camping over tent-camping and in particular, loved the VW camper van. We owned several over the years beginning in the 70’s. I even ended up rolling and totaling one as a teenager! Another story, another day… Anyway, I have fond memories of me, mom and three siblings crammed in to a fully-loaded Westfalia camper, chugging slowly up a mountain pass with the emergency lights flashing so no one would rear-end us. The older vans were terribly under-powered but still a decent daily driver with the option to make a camping detour on the commute home from work.

1980 Vanagon Westfalia
1980 Vanagon Westfalia. From Stevanspringer at en.wikipedia (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4171180)

Fast-forward to a few years ago (pre-cancer) when Lily and I somehow stumbled upon the SportsMobile Ford E350 4×4 van conversions. I can’t recall how we discovered SMB but we ended up seriously considering a purchase. We visited the factory in Fresno, California USA as it’s pretty close to us here in the Bay Area but for lack of funds we didn’t end up pulling the trigger… Since we last kicked the tires, SMB has added some really cool models based on the Mercedes 4×4 Sprinter. Not the same as the venerable old E350 but they do look pretty awesome.

Sportsmobile Mercedes Sprinter 4x4.
Sportsmobile Mercedes Sprinter 4×4.

Extreme Off-Road Camping

Fast-forward a few more years to the Lost Year (2015), fighting cancer. Priorities got abruptly shifted and we’re back in the market for an off-grid camper. In the early stages of Googling I focused on a more extreme, rugged, rock-crawling variety of vehicle pulling a trailer. For example, consider the AEV Jeep Wrangler JK350 towing an off-road trailer with a roof-top tent either on the Jeep or trailer. If we were to rate the requirement of “capable of off-pavement” on a scale of 1-10, this is 11! I do love this setup.

AEV JK350. Nice articulation.
Turtleback trailer in the wild.
Turtleback trailer in the wild.

Pickup With Camper

I’ve owned a pickup truck most of my life and they hold a special place in my heart. The AEV Prospector modifications to the Dodge RAM 2500 looks pretty nice.

AEV Dodge RAM 2500 Prospector.

The Prospector with a Four Wheel Camper or XPCamper would probably work really well. I do like the low profile of the FWC.

Four Wheel Camper on a short-bed truck
Four Wheel Camper on a short-bed truck. Very nice!

These pickup/camper options satisfy quite a few of the requirements list. A brand new crew cab truck would be comfy for the whole family. Off-pavement capabilities, while not at Wrangler level, is still pretty serious.

Medium Size Expedition Rigs

For purposes of this brief survey I’m calling these “medium size”. Some people would consider these “large”. Anyway, I’m thinking of a turnkey solution that includes a fixed camper body to a larger truck (i.e. larger than pickup). This turns out to be the category of which I’m most interested. Overall weight and height become bigger factors in this range. Here’s a few examples roughly from small to large:

  • EarthCruiser – EC has several options built on the 4×4 Fuso chassis. Advantages include new truck (vs. importing an old Mog, MAN, or buying an old surplus Army truck), low-profile (at least for the pop top version), maneuverable and reasonably adept off-pavement. Even though the EC might be a bit small for our four-person family this is another vehicle we almost purchased. The ATW is another good example of a Fuso build.

EarthCruiser EXP

  • EarthRoamer & Tiger – These are larger camper shells permanently attached to trucks like the Ford F550. Both of these rigs look amazing, inside and out.
EarthRoamer XV-LT in action.
EarthRoamer XV-LT in action.
Tiger Siberian.
Tiger Siberian. Mean!
GXV Safari Extreme
GXV Safari Extreme in action.
  • Bliss Mobil – Bliss Mobil is based in Breda, The Netherlands and the first non-US option listed here. They offer unique expedition units affixed to your platform of choice – Unimog, Steyr, MAN and, in our case, LMTV. We love their products and have a 15-foot unit build in progress.
15 foot Bliss Mobil on a Steyr 12M18
15 foot Bliss Mobil on an Excap Steyr 12M18.

Huge Expedition Rigs

This category is off the charts! There’s amazing big expedition rigs built on the Mercedes Zetros 6×6 and even MAN KAT 8×8 by Bliss Mobil and Hartmann. Make no mistake, these are enormous rigs. While in Breda we explored the Bliss Mobil owner’s Zetros unit and it’s really, really big. If you have a large family and equally large budget, these are amazing machines. Too bad we can’t get a new Zetros in the U.S.

Zetros 6x6 with Bliss Mobil 20ft unit.
Zetros 6×6 with Bliss Mobil 20ft unit.
GXV Patagonia in action.
GXV Patagonia in action.

Check out this couple currently traveling in their MAN KAT 8×8 with a Bliss Mobil unit. That is one large expedition vehicle!

MAN KAT 8x8 and Bliss Mobil 20ft.
MAN KAT 8×8 and Bliss Mobil 20ft.

In Conclusion

I hope someone will find this interesting and/or helpful in their own search for the right machine. Future posts will dive in deeper to the Bliss Mobil and LMTV we’re building.


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  1. Hello! I just found your blog… it’s awesome! Congratulations on your continuing adventure in life, and with Bliss Mobile. I’m also looking at Bliss… and I live in California, work at Google and have a TON of student loan debt. I’d love to get off the grid and overtime save some money and stop wasting my money on rent. Extreme times, extreme actions 🙂 I might want to chat with you in the near future if I decide to go with a Bliss vehicle, looking forward to seeing your next posts!!

    1. Hi and thanks for the comment! I’ve been a little lazy updating the site. The truck and Bliss are getting fitted together now in Denver. Hopefully done around year end. I’ll PM you my personal email in case you want to connect. I’m in Oakland working in SF and would be happy showing you around the vehicle once I get it if you’re in the Bay Area.

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